It is good to be back, I’ll say that much. The opening scenes of Peter Jackson’s first entry into the prequel trilogy of “The Lord of the Rings” — “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” — evokes that now decade old trilogy. It is a welcoming feeling, but “The Hobbit” novel released in 1937 was never as dark as “The Lord of the Rings” and was intended for an entirely different audience, namely children. This adaptation isn’t bad by any means, but it loses steam in the latter half due to its overlong run time and evident padding.
Bilbo Baggins, currently played by Ian Holm, begins by recalling the adventure he undertook long ago. An adventure with details he wishes to reveal to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) who makes a minor appearance. We next see a younger version of Bilbo sitting smoking pipe-weed, now played by Martin Freeman, being approached by Gandalf (Ian Mckellen) for an adventure. Gandalf refuses to listen to Bilbo’s attempts to shoo him off and invites 12 brutish Dwarfs into Bilbo’s home to make a general ruckus before planning the quest.
The Dwarfs, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), seek to reclaim their stolen home of Erebor in the lonely mountain. Erebor was a huge dwarf city that contained masses of gold, but was taken by the Dragon Smaug many years ago. The team need a burglar, and they have been told that Bilbo is their man, or… half man.
I said in my “Fellowship of the Ring” review that the opening Shire scenes were some of the best scenes in the film. I, like Gandalf, must be fascinated by the very idea of Hobbits. The race of small round people with leathery feet topped with coarse hair that value peace, quiet and food over anything else. The Shire represents this with its warm Hobbit holes and lush rolling fields untainted by the darkness that is present throughout Middle Earth. “An Unexpected Journey” enhances the brightness of the Shire in comparison to the “Rings” trilogy ,as well as other places throughout the film, and it looks beautiful!
A visual change is very welcome. I don’t mean this to be a criticism of the “Lord of the Rings” aesthetic, but the change fits the tone of the film. “The Hobbit” was a children’s book at its base and the look fits the film like a glove. Some will find this among other things to be too much of a departure from the trilogy they loved and wished to return too. I disagree and say that the film retains the feeling of watching a “Lord of the Rings” film — for the most part — whilst also adding in elements that lighten the tone for the better.
After the Dwarfs nearly tear down Bilbo’s house in what was a delightfully humourous and playful sequence, he finds himself staring at his secure Hobbit hole door with a clear lust for adventure. He decides on a whim to leave his warm hearth and go with the Dwarfs to the lonely mountain, much to the disappointment of Thorin, who looks down upon the half-ling. The journey to the mountain is suitable and entertaining at first but contains few memorable locations and even fewer interesting ones.
The best scene in the movie is perhaps the only part of the final half of the film I truly enjoyed. The party have been kidnapped by Goblins run by a Goblin King (Barry Humphries) who intends to cut off Thorin’s head and give it to Azog (Manu Bennett), the “Pale Orc” that killed Thorins father in the effort to take back the kingdom of Moria and the main antagonist of this film. During this sequence we finally get to see the fateful moment in which Bilbo steals the ring from the pitiful creature Gollum (Andy Serkis).
The scene involves a lengthy dialogue driven exchange in which Bilbo and Gollum play a game of riddles. Bilbo is playing to be shown the way out of the caves, whilst Gollum plays to “Eats it whole”. As one of the most well deservedly iconic characters of Tolkien’s universe, it was brilliant just to have him back and have Andy Serkis play him better than ever with the updated technology. The presence of Bilbo as well just makes the scene flat out brilliant to simply listen too, Martin Freeman is pitch perfect as Bilbo and the pair are able to instill humour as well as malice into the deep caves.
The final battle feels tacked on to say the least, and by the end I had been well and truly hobbited out. Why the movie needs to be 170 minutes long I do not know, the first half was refreshing and welcoming even with its new tone that I was all for. The second half for the most part feels very bare and Azog is a stunning villain in terms of voice acting and appearance but lacks the presence of Sauron. You know, the villain that managed to be terrifying when he was only seen in a prologue? I don’t think the choice to split “The Hobbit” into a trilogy is wise, but let’s see how Peter Jackson handles it and hope that he settles into Middle Earth as he did with each instalment of “The Lord of the Rings”.